Please help me get to VONA 2017!



So, I decided to apply to the Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation’s writing workshop this year. VONA is the only multi-genre week-long writing workshop geared specifically for writers of color in the entire nation.

To me, it is home. It is safety. It is familia.

I am an alum of 2014 and 2015. I worked with the fantastic Elmaz Abinader in her Political Content workshop for both of those years. I workshopped my fiction work and it was an awesome experience both times. I embraced new kin, had my work looked at with fresh eyes and critiqued for the craft. It really was a beautiful experience.

I wasn’t sure I was going to apply this year but at the encouragement of friends, family, and even my place of employment, I applied for the essay workshop with Kiese Laymon. Essay is the kind of writing I have been focusing on for 2017 and it has been such an emotional journey for me.

I didn’t think I would get in to this workshop, y’all. That’s the honest truth. Call it self-doubt. Call it fear. But I didn’t think I would.

But I did. I got in!

I got in and it is such an honor, a blessing, and a beautiful surprise to be accepted into VONA 2017. I am so excited to meet and work with other writers. I am so excited to work with Kiese Laymon and soak up all of his Jedi wisdom.

Here’s the thing, I need help paying tuition and lodging. With bills and rent and survival, getting $2000 together in a mere few weeks presents a problem for me. Tuition and lodging payment is due on JUNE 1st.

This is where, you, my community comes in.

You’ve been reading my work and supporting me with your beautiful words of encouragement. NOW, I HUMBLY ASK FOR YOUR $$HELP$$ TO IMPROVE ON MY CRAFT AND TO LEARN FROM ONE OF THE GREATS.


Here’s the link to my GoFundMe campaign.

ANYTHING COUNTS! $5 goes a looooooooong way, y’all!

Thanking everyone who has donated so far and thanking everyone who has shared this link on all platforms of social media. You don’t realize how much it means to me to have my community in my corner!


#52Essays2017 Week 16: Letter to A

Dear A,

Let me first say that this letter isn’t about him. It’s not about what he did to us and this is in no way an opportunity to shit on either one of y’all.  In fact, it’s been years since he and I have had any contact and I’m truly happy with that. Because you roll in similar circles, I have seen some of the things you are involved with. I know that if it hadn’t been for the drama, I’m sure we would’ve been cool as fuck.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

For clarity though, we know he was an asshole. At least I know he was and I am assuming you know it now as well. He was conniving and manipulative and he pitted us against each other so he wouldn’t have to acknowledge and own up to that fact that he was hurting us so deeply. Just so you know, I was never with him when he was with you. At least, to my knowledge, I wasn’t. But knowing his ass, maybe I was.

Why don’t we just acknowledge that the entire situation was a clusterfuck? He played us like a fucking orchestra. And we sang for him. What a shame. Dos sirenas singing for a sailor struck with a fucked up case of wanderlust.

Sometimes, I imagine us bumping into each other on the train or in the street, after all of these years, after all of the drama has dissipated, both of us in different places in our lives. I guess some shit would probably go down since I am very certain there is still bad blood for you. But honestly, I wouldn’t know how to react. I can tell you that for a long time after he left my life for good, the thought of it would render me speechless because I would have no idea how to address you if I ever did actually bump into you.

Maybe I wouldn’t even bother, just let you ice grill me and believe what you needed for you. Or maybe I would smile. Maybe I would say your name out loud so you’d turn to me or maybe you’d be the first to speak. Maybe I wouldn’t say a word, just let the moment pass, watch you walk by me. Shit, maybe you wouldn’t even know it was me. Nah, let’s stop fronting, you’d know it was me the same way I would know it was you.

I don’t know the intricacies of what you shared with him and I won’t say I care to know. I don’t. I do know that he led us both to believe that he loved only us, and I am sure to a certain degree and at certain points, he did really care for us.

I won’t say love though. I know he didn’t really love me.

It took me a long time to come to grips with the fact that with him, the word “love” was a way to ensure we (among others) stuck around. I remember he said he had a problem with ending things with people, that he didn’t know how, that goodbyes were always so difficult for him. I told him to just do it and that way he could no longer be held emotionally responsible for the fuckery.

Obviously, he didn’t take my advice.

I hope you know that, too, A. I hope you know that you deserved more than he gave you. That you deserved more than the drama. That you deserved more than the lies and the tears and the manipulations. That you deserved real and honest communication. That you deserved sincere and genuine love.

We both did, mama.

But enough about that. Here is what I want to say to you: I have let him go already but now? Now, I must let you go.

In my time with him, I was constantly compared to you. I was not as special, as beautiful, as smart, as amazing as you. I told myself that every time he made me cry, every time he made me feel like I had done something that caused him to ignore me, treat me like dirt. I told myself that he would never love me because of you. You were the other side of the fence, the greener grass, the better woman. You were the better option.

He told me once he and I couldn’t compete with what he had shared with you. I’m sure that might make you smile, make you feel like you’ve won something. He watched me cry for hours after he said it. And then we fucked because the sad woman in me still loved him enough to think I could make him love me back with my body. That I could erase his doubts about me with my thighs, my breasts, my mouth, my pussy.

He said he loved me that day, too. Just not enough.

Here’s the thing though. You, who you were, stopped being you, a long time ago.  It’s not you, A. You, as the idea of the other woman, the better option, became the personification of all of my insecurities. You became the symbol of those scars. Even in future relationships, there was an A there, the phantom woman that could scoop my love out right from under me. There was an A in every relationship I had, a specter of a woman that had everything that I lacked and that they wanted. To me, there was always someone better. There was always the threat of being abandoned by love because of an A that flaunted her perfections in front of my cracked mirror flaws to remind me and remind him that I wasn’t enough and never could be.

I stopped believing in my own special uniqueness, my own beauty. I stopped believing that what I had to offer was enough. I believed that I was lacking something, believed that it was my fault and that I should have done this or I should have been this just to make him, or any man, stay with me. I told myself I wasn’t beautiful, that I wasn’t a good woman. I shamed myself. Often.

So, you see, when I say I have to let you go, A, I really have to let go of what you represent. I have to let go of the idea that I am not and can never be enough for someone. I have to let go of the feeling that you exist and honor myself by embracing the imperfect me, the regular ass me.

I have to let you go because you’re in the way. You’re in the way of who I need to be and what I need to do, ma.

I have to start believing that I am enough and have enough and that I am really and truly a sublime being with oceans of love to give someone. I have to believe that my oceans are enough. I know you’ll sometimes come back in glimmers of self-doubt. But I am saging you out, sis. I am taking some metaphorical palo santo and smoking you the fuck out of my psyche as best I can. I have to start loving myself better and know that I am worthy of love. And you can’t be around for that.

I’m working on it.


Angelique Imani Rodriguez





#52Essays2017 Week 15: My 10% Desperation

“We are like sculptors, constantly carving out of others the image we long for, need, love or desire, often against reality, against their benefit, and always, in the end, a disappointment, because it does not fit them.”

-Anais Nin

At the time, I thought he was the most intriguing person. Tattooed, a kind of poet, artsy-fartsy, with a great sense of depth. I fantasized about this dude. I thought about him. I wanted to get to know him better.

I said so to him one day after a poetry workshop we attended together. Walked up to him with all the courage I could muster, a warm smile on my face, nervousness in my shaky hands, eyes bright with all my “Please like me back” vibes. I stood there and let him know that I was interested in just getting to know him. I had made feeble attempts of saying so and failed attempts at hardcore flirting in the past, but in my mind, I figured that being face to face and “brave,” he’d see I was genuinely into him.

In my mind, I saw him smiling and nodding, I saw him saying he’d love to hang one day with me, that he’d love to get to know me, too.

That wasn’t what happened at all.

Instead, homeboy smirked and with the smirk lingering at the corners of his lips said, “You look like the type of woman that 90 percent of the time gets what she wants and 10 percent desperately tries to.”

I didn’t know what to say. I mean, how the fuck do you respond to that? It was like a door slamming shut in my smiling face. I was shocked. Worse, I was humiliated. He thought I was desperate to be with him. Desperate, of all things.

I stood there for a shadow of a second, the smile plastered on my face. If I allowed myself to stop smiling , I would burst into embarrassed tears right in front of this man who thought I was desperate for him. I refused to let that shit happen. I felt my face flush, heat circling my neck like a wool scarf. I nodded, I think. If I said something, I don’t remember what it was but I can say they weren’t “brave” words anymore. I finally turned away from him and walked down the stairs and out of the building.

I don’t remember what I did after that. I hung out with friends. I drank wine. A lot of wine.

When I saw him next, I avoided him completely. Fuck that.

That 10% was only 10% after all.


The definition, in the context that homeboy used, for “desperate,” is “having a great and urgent need or desire for something.” The  origins of the word “desperate” are rooted in the Latin word, “desperare,” or “desperatus,” meaning “derived of hope.” It is also rooted in the late Middle English word for “despair.”

I asked myself when I looked up the word if despair has marked my actions in love, if I had, indeed, lost hope.

I can sit and blame a myriad of things. Disney movies. Fairy tales. 90210. Telenovelas. Pine fucking Valley.

Love, had always been something that was supposed to happen, it was something that was meant to happen. Love, to me, meant someone else. Love meant giving my hope and desire to someone else. I fantasized and desired these men as could-happens, tortured myself with the should-happens. I desired them without knowing their rot or their ruin, without knowing or asking if the vibration of their energy, of their humanity, came even close to what I was giving them.

It never did. And it never occurred to me that I should keep that love and hope for myself.

It never occurred to me that my desire for someone was only my desire to be loved.

I don’t want to act as if I didn’t have love in my life. I did…I do. I am loved on multiple levels by multiple people. Family, friends, kinfolk, etc. There’s lots of love in my life.

But where. oh where, did that fucking “desperation” come from?


“I have fallen in love more times than I care to count with the highest potential of a man, rather than with the man himself, and I have hung on to the relationship for a long time (sometimes far too long) waiting for the man to ascend to his own greatness. Many times in romance I have been a victim of my own optimism.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love


I was going to write about my failed relationships in detail here, but I am choosing to spare you all the gory details. Mostly because I realized it would only be me spewing whatever residual resentments I have lingering and that I would be filling the page with moments of heartbreak instead of clarity and transformation.

Besides, this essay is not about them.

In trying to write this essay, I combed through a lot of my old journals. The entries about these men that I wrote about are all laced with yearning, with hopes that somehow or someway, they could possibly see how much I loved them and then just……love me back. I spewed dribble about seeing a perfect existence with them and that they could be the man I just knew they were deep down on the inside if only they would really see the depth of my affection for them.

I always thought the strength of my love was enough to make them see the light, make them see me in the light.

The most humbling thing about reading those entries in my journals though is that they all, in some form, asked the same question:

Why don’t you love me?

Why can’t you love me?

Why am I unlovable to you?


“To return to love, to get the love we always wanted but never had, to have the love we want but are not prepared to give, we seek romantic relationships. We believe these relationships, more than any other, will rescue and redeem us. True love does have the power to redeem but only if we are ready for redemption. Love saves us only if we want to be saved.”

― bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions


I was a young woman when I met Anthony in my early 20s. I will be honest and tell you that I can’t really recall how we met and I can’t tell you why we split. I suppose it was the usual fade-out bullshit that people do when they don’t know how to end things.

For some reason, because a bruised heart-slash-ego always keloids, this is what I remember:

One day, on a phone call, I was crying and frustrated and we were arguing. I don’t remember what we were talking about. I do remember that towards the end, he said words that I have carried with me ever since.

“You’re not ready for a real relationship, Angie. You wouldn’t even know how to handle it.”

I don’t know why I believed him. I just know that I did. That I carried that with me. That sometimes, when another attempt at a relationship has failed, I hear him say those words in my mind. And I cringe.


I can tell you that I have been lied to, cheated on, stolen from, manipulated, yelled at, physically abused, ridiculed, disrespected, sexually assaulted, blamed, gaslighted. I can tell you all of those things and yes, they are all terrible moments in my life. But this isn’t about the men who I loved so hard who could (and would) never love me back and this isn’t about the things they have done to me.

This is more about who I loved more during that time.

And it was always them.

I never fit myself in the equation I made. I never saw myself in the fantasy I created. I saw them. I wanted them. I desired the fantasy.

But you can’t force a square peg in a round hole though, no matter how much it looks like it should fit. It won’t. Instead, it will become lodged in and stuck, immovable until you slam down and force it through, breaking edges and bruising yourself along the way.

But what good is that though? What good is the bruising when you’re the one with the fist?

So now, I ask myself:

Why don’t you love yourself?

I ask myself:

Who told you that you are unlovable?

I ask myself:

Why did you believe them?


“How wrong is it for a woman to expect the man to build the world she wants, rather than to create it herself?”
― Anaïs Nin


Self-love is not a one-time decision, y’all.  It’s not like I woke up in the morning and said, “You know what? I am going to love myself and that’s that. I love myself. Operation self-love done.”

Perhaps, others can do that. I am not one of those people.

Self-love is a fucking excavation to the center of the Earth. It is a discovery of yourself in the most cavernous parts of your psyche, your spirit, your heart, your intellect, your emotion, your memory. It is a dive into the deepest depths of the ocean and the pressure can become so paramount that you are forced to come up for air occasionally.

The process of self-love is a mirror that has been shattered. And you have to sit and glue all the pieces of this fractured mirror back, one by one, suffering cuts and lacerations, until you can finally see yourself, cracked and imperfect but whole and beautiful.

There is nothing easy about working on self-love when for your entire life you had no idea that all you have done was spawned from the lack of it, when you had no idea that what you once thought was done out of confidence, out of a liberated sense of self, was merely you working to hide scars and run from pain.

Working on self-love has been and is still the most excruciating and the most fruitful emotional experience for me. There is nothing wrong with admitting that you have had your back to the sun this entire time. It felt warm at one time. But you were hiding your face the whole time, dig?

I can say that I am slowly seeing myself in the very light I so wanted those fools to see me in.

Fuck that. Today…. I AM the light. Bask in me.


#52Essays2017 Week 14: A (Not So Very) Beautiful Way to Explain Death- Part 1

“There is a beginning

and an ending for everything

that is alive.

In between there is living.”

-from The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children by Bryan Mellonie


Before they renovated the apartment where I grew up, Mami tells me that there were swinging slatted doors to the kitchen. She tells me that for a long time before the renovations, you could see the spot where the hinges used to be. I don’t remember the doors, but I know something was once there because I do remember those hinge holes in the doorframe.

When I ask her what happened to them, she is quiet for a moment before she speaks.

“Your father ripped them out of the doorframe six months after your Uncle Tito died.  He had been so silent about it, taking care of everyone else, that one day, he just got red in the face and ripped them off the wall, crying. He was curled up in the corner when I went to him. Uncle Tito dying really changed your father, you know.”

My father is not an explosive man. His explosions are usually tactical, strategic, at the point of overflow. Yet, he is one of the most emotional men I have ever met and is the reason why I truly believe in my heart that real men are unafraid to cry. But his emotions are usually very even-keeled and easy-going. If my father is upset, he is either really touched, really sad, or really angry. And if he’s “really” any of those, it’s not a tear falling or a sharpness in his tone. It is oceans and thundering explosions kept at bay for far too long.

So, when I hear that my father’s grief gave him Hulk-like strength to rip those swinging doors straight out of the kitchen doorframe, I don’t doubt the overflow was too much to bear any longer.

When I ask why they never put the doors back on the kitchen doorframe, my mother pauses again.

“I don’t know why. I guess I didn’t think it was right to.”


When we were children, my parents bought a book for me and my brothers called Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children. The book has beautiful depictions of nature in its living form and in its death. It is indeed a beautiful depiction of death. It gave us what we needed to know.

You live and then you die.

Everything lives and everything dies. The natural cycle of life.

It didn’t mention gunshots.

It didn’t mention rupturing arteries in people’s brains.

It didn’t mention unending grief.

When I speak to my oldest brother about grief and death, his words make me pause, make me write.

“You know what I was thinking, sis? Uncle Tito’s death is the reason why we were so aware of our own mortality as children.”


I am a very young girl. I don’t remember what I am doing but I hear a scream unlike anything I have ever heard. It stretches into the air, holds itself high, unbroken. One that seems to come from some deep crack in the earth.

I am a very young girl. But I know it is my mother screaming.

I walk to the kitchen, where my mother is. The refrigerator sits by the doorway on the left, the first thing you see. Next to the fridge, sits a wooden chair. You can almost hide behind the fridge in that chair if you pull your legs up. I’ve often done it in games with my brother. I see the curled wire of the house phone on the right wall in front of the fridge stretched to that chair, but I can’t see Mami.

I can hear her though.

She is sobbing, wailing almost, as if she is in pain, only I can’t see her. I stand there, afraid of stepping forward. The cries coming from Mami are ones I have never heard before. They fill the room, they drown out all other noise. They scare me.

I walk and peek around the fridge’s side. Mami is sitting in the kitchen chair, the phone pressed to her ear, her head leaning on the side of the fridge, her eyes shut, tears pushing through her lashes.

“Mami? Mami, what’s wrong??”

She looks up at me, lashes wet, cheeks flushed with her emotion. “My cousin Bibi died.” I think, for a moment, my mother awash in her grief, forgot I was a little girl, forgot a gentle preface. I didn’t know who cousin Bibi was, but years later, my mother would tell me I have her gait, her walk, her shape. It makes her smile with her eyes.

When we speak about this day, my mother tells me that I went back to my room and drew a picture to make her feel better. It was a drawing of her cousin Bibi in a coffin. I can imagine it was quite the shock.

I don’t remember drawing this. I remember nothing but thinking death was my mother’s wails.


Growing up, I never saw a picture of Uncle Tito because no one I knew had any.

My father tells me now that after he died, my aunt, in her extraordinary grief, made the entire family, sometimes with threats of violence, give her all of their pictures of Uncle Tito. He tells me her house became a shrine to her favorite brother. I asked Mami how Uncle Tito looked and she tells me he was baby-faced, with dark blonde hair, with the indigenous and European features of my father’s side of the family.

All of our lives, my brothers and I have heard the story of how he died. He was shot in the head. They called it a suicide but no one believed it.

“My generation is almost all gone, Angie,” my father says softly, his voice choking back a sob on the other end of the phone. “And my brother is still not at rest.”

I let him speak. I hold back my own tears because my parents’ emotions always make me cry, too. I hear him compose himself before he speaks again.

“I fucking hate when people tell me, ‘You can’t bring him back.’ No shit. I know he’s dead. But if I had the money, Angie, I swear I would open his case again. My brother has never rested and I never found out why he had to die.”

I was in my teens when, deep in our family photos, my father found a small picture of his brother, one so small that you could miss it if you weren’t paying attention. Uncle Tito is in a leather hat and jacket, staring into the camera with facial features that remind me of my paternal grandmother. My father has it on his altar. It is the only picture he has of his younger brother. The one he still mourns.


Death is not hooded in black, holding a scythe, glimmering in the moonlight. Death is unbearable sadness, it is cold skin in coffins, it is my parents’ tears. Death is the bringer of grief. The Grim Reaper does not visit the dying or soon to be dead. If the Grim Reaper really exists, it does not visit those that are to die, it visits those that will grieve, those that live still.


When I tell my mother I am writing an essay on how death and grief permeated my childhood, she scoffs at first, tells me that death and grief wasn’t a huge part of my childhood, as if she had kept me and my brothers in a glass box where we could not hear or feel the energy of grief around us. But when I tell her I remember the day she found out Bibi died, she sighs into the phone.

“Okay, so your childhood was terrible then.”

“No, Mami, I didn’t say that. It was beautiful, but there was pain, too. It was a human childhood. Tell me about Bibi.”

She sighs again, “Bibi’s room in Puerto Rico was that good-girl type of shit. Posters and creative things everywhere. Remember how you used to have all that stuff on your bedroom walls? Like that.”

“Her textbooks were all in English and she only knew Spanish. I would spend so much time helping her translate her homework. We would laugh so much. I don’t remember about what but I miss laughing like that. When her parents died, she didn’t take it well. First, my tío Jojo and then her mami. She was in pain. I think she died of a brain aneurysm, you know, when a vessel pops in your head.”

“Your grandmother called me after Bibi died. I was so heartbroken after she died, Imani. One of my biggest regrets in my life is  not being able to say goodbye to her, not going to her funeral. Anyway, my mother told me that she had a dream where she saw Jojo and his wife and a teenage version of Bibi. They were walking side by side, with Bibi in the middle, their arms linked, you know? Like walking together, holding each other. She said in her dream that Bibi turned back and her smile was radiant. Radiant. That’s the word she used.”

I ask my mother if she is still sad about Bibi. There is sadness dripping in her silence.

“It’s hard for me to dig deep like that, Imani.”


Uncle Tito died on January 2, 1982 and I was born on June 20, 1984. I was born into the open wound of my father’s grief. I have always known how he died since I was a child. A gunshot wound to the head. The story was always just the raw details.  Baby faced and 19 years old and he was shot. When I ask my father the details, the images he speaks of are vivid, strong, emotional. I cry with him when he tells me. I ask myself sometimes if Uncle Tito would have been around, if he would have come to visit me and my brothers, if he would have liked me, been proud of me.

My father was 27 years old when his younger brother died. That night, my father was playing the Sesame Street tune on his flute for my oldest brother, who was three years old going on four. Everything was rolling along normally, just like the night before and the one before that.

The phone call interrupted the flute playing. Someone on the other end, he can’t remember who, was screaming on the other end that his little brother had been shot.

Our upstairs neighbor drove my father down to 170th Street and Sheridan Avenue, across the street from the schoolyard of Taft High school in the South Bronx. The bodega where Uncle Tito had been shot was the exact bodega that my father had seen my mother enter with my grandmother on September 8, 1976 and was so enamored with her smile, that he waited for her sitting on a mailbox, legs swinging, Puerto Rican papi chulo swagger on lock to capture her heart for the next quarter century of their lives.

This was once a place of joyous memory for my father.

What he was driven to that January night in 1982 would erase the joy for him.

When he arrived, my paternal grandmother and aunts were in hysterics. My father, in a strong thunderous voice demanded to know where his brother was.

“Where’s his body? Where’s his body?” They could only point into the bodega, where there was an office in the back that Uncle Tito would sometimes go and hang out at.  My father walked to the bodega’s entrance and was told by the officer standing there that he wasn’t allowed in.

“That’s my brother, officer. Look, I’ve been to Vietnam. I know what it might look like. Let me see my brother.” My father told me he didn’t regret the lie. Besides, he already knew what to expect. My father knew what death looked like.

“It was the South Bronx in ’82, mama. We had all fucking seen it already.  Baby, when they tell you there’s a war on drugs, don’t believe them. It’s just a war on us. Just a war on us.”

What my father walked into changed his life. There was his baby brother, slouched on the ground, the back of his head “shattered,” his blood and bits of his brain coating the brick wall behind him. The bullet had gone behind my uncle’s right ear and through the back of his head. My father says he touched his brother’s leg and it felt cold like clay, like ice and he “melted” in front of his little brother’s body. He prayed an Our Father over his little brother’s corpse, prayed for his soul.

“Padre nuestro, que estás en los cielos, santificado sea tu nombre,
venga tu reyno,
hagase tu voluntad,
asì en la tierra como en el cielo.

Danos hoy nuestro pan cotidiano,
Y perdónanos nuestras deudas,
asì como nosotros perdonamos á nuestros deudores.
Y no nos metas en tentación,
mas líbranos de mal.


My father watched as the EMTs zipped his brother’s body into a body bag, watched as they wheeled the gurney to the ambulance, helped them lift it into the ambulance. He kicked the door of the truck and then composed himself, because he knew he would have to navigate the all- consuming grief of his mother and sisters.

His grief would wait until six months later to erupt in ripped doors and sobs that curled him into himself.


“My brother’s death was ruled a suicide, Angie. But I don’t believe that shit. I never have. There was a bullet, lodged right in the tool box there on a shelf on that brick wall. I took that bullet and gave it to someone and then no one ever talked about it again. No one ever talked about it. The case was never followed up. It was just another Puerto Rican kid, just another Latin kid involved in some shit and no one cared. I cared. My family cared. We cared. I know he didn’t do that shit to himself, Angie.

My brother was left handed and the bullet entered the right side of his head. Right behind his ear. How did that happen? How COULD that happen? The gun residue was still on his skin when I saw him Angie. I saw it. The bullet was from a Magnum, my brother has a .38.  No, no, Angie. I never thought my brother killed himself.

And the people that know what really happened, they will face their judgment by God when the day comes. Some of them are dead already, Angie, and I hope they asked for forgiveness. They will feel the kind of pain that made my sister surround herself with a shrine to Tito, the kind of pain that could rip apart my family for years. Those were crazy times for your daddy, Angie. For my whole family. I stayed away from that shit. I stayed away from it. But when it’s your family, your heart never leaves.

I knew that the bullet I found was gotten rid of because it told the truth about what happened. But I got scared for my life, scared for your mother and your brother. I knew when that bullet disappeared, that they wanted it to disappear and me bringing it up again would put us all in danger. We could’ve been killed, too.”

My father stops talking after this. I feel the heaviness of that decision in the way his voice sounds when he speaks next.

“I always thought this shit would be easier as I got older. But it’s not, Angie. You just get older and deal with it. You turn gray and you get smarter, but you deal with it. That’s what you do.”


There are details of this story that my father and mother have divulged to me that I have chosen not to write. Details that could rupture fractured familial ties further, details that would be too shocking and too sad for people to read. My father has urged me to write them and I will, when the backlash of it all will only be for me and not for him, nor for my mother.

I won’t add to my father’s pain, hardened like a bug in amber, that he still wears. I can’t.

His grief is still my grief.


This essay is not done. I’ve realized that as I struggled with writing it. I realized that grief has impacted my family in ways that are hard to limit to just one essay. I realized that grief is layered, becomes hardened. I realized that there has been no transformation because it has been something we just “deal” with and not anything we allow to flow. We must get through it. We must deal.

We have not faced it. And I’ve only just begun putting it all into the light.

To Be Continued….

#52Essays2017 Week 13: Guerrilla Tits

“Shame is the lie someone told you about yourself.” –  Anaïs Nin


I was eating dinner when I received the text.

“Why are your tits online?”

It was my homegirl, hitting me up. I thought she was joking, so I said so in my response. Stop fucking around. She assured me that this was no joke. She sent me a link and I got on my laptop, dinner forgotten.

There they were, round, brown, and THERE. Smuts R Us. That’s what they called the blog they had posted them on. The description on the blog indicated that the blog was created to “expose” women for their “smutty” ways, which, in this case, included sending intimate photos of themselves to someone. Actually there were two pictures of me on that site. One of me topless, close up, baring my nipples to the camera, and the other of me posing topless in white cotton panties in front of my bedroom mirror.

I immediately began to cry. I was humiliated. I felt made fun of. I felt violated, invaded. My mind raced to figure out who could have sent them. It was a scorned lover, an ex maybe, or a woman in their life who found my pictures somehow and sent them to this blog in sheer anger. I couldn’t understand why someone would want to do something like that to me. I was sobbing, heaving with my humiliation, my shock, my utter helplessness when my mother came into the bedroom. She looked concerned, sat next to me on my bed and held me as I shook with each wracking sob. I couldn’t breathe through my tears. When I finally told her what this person had done to me, she gasped and looked at me with shock etched into the corners of her mouth, her eyebrows.

“How could you do something like that, Imani? How could you?”


The word “smut,” is derived from the German word “schmutzen,” which means, “to make dirty.” The first use of the word “smut” used to describe something offensive was in the 1660s. In the 1940’s and 1950’s, the term was used to describe offensive material that was sexual in nature. Think pin up magazines and pulp fiction.  The term “smut,” is now a word akin to the likes of “slut,” “ho,” or “whore.” It is meant to derogatorily describe a woman that is considered promiscuous.

The origins of the word began with a way to describe  a “black mark or stain.”

To be called a smut then, meant that I  was a marked woman, a woman with the stain of dirt. I was offensive. I was not to be taken seriously.  I was for sexual entertainment only.


I don’t know how or why I ended up on the phone with a dude who had liked me in the past, but there I was, distraught and crying and telling him the sordid details of my humiliation. I just wanted comfort. I wanted someone to tell me that I had done nothing wrong, that they were on my side, that I was not smutty, or disgusting, or unworthy of respect.

He asked me why I had sent the pictures. He asked me why I felt I had to do that.

I didn’t have an explanation. I didn’t think I needed one. I was an adult, wasn’t I? I was a sexually active woman in her mid-20s in the 2000’s. I didn’t see anything wrong with sharing my sensuality with someone I was already intimate with or was planning on being intimate with. But those pictures posted on that site were telling me I was nothing, I was less than nothing. I was blindsided by this violation. I was crushed and my confidence was shattered. I sobbed into my cell phone and he remained silent for a few moments.

“Can I see them? The pictures I mean?”


“I mean, you have ’em, right? I know you have more. I know you don’t care to send ’em out. So send me some.”

“Why would you ask me that? How dare you ask me that!” I choked through tears, anger singing the edges of my humiliation.

“Are you kidding me? Whatchu expect? You think you’re so fucking hot, well this is why your shit got exposed. Shit’s good for you. If I had pictures, I would send them, too, just to remind you that you’re not all that, ma. Get over yourself.”

He hung up on me. I don’t know why he mattered. I know that his words were the nails in a coffin that was already suffocating me.

It’s crazy what you hold on to.


In catechism classes, you are taught that in Exodus of the Bible, Adam and Eve cover themselves out of shame. You are a child and have no idea why they cover themselves because you have no idea that to be naked is to have shame. Adam and Eve had the bliss of no misfortune, no judgment. They were perfect creatures that God created. You are told that it was not until Eve shamed them both by taking the fruit from the tree of knowledge and seducing Adam into eating it with her, that they were banished from the Garden of Eden.

As child, you think knowledge is everything in the world. Every topic you can conjure in your young brain.  The fruit Eve had taken meant she knew what God knew, she knew everything, she was suddenly a genius who knew every line of every book and every math problem ever. It is not until you are older that you are told that the knowledge people are mentioning is about their bodies and realizing they were naked. All of a sudden, you have questions. Was being naked a bad thing? Was the knowledge that they feasted on, the knowledge of sex? The knowledge of sensuality? Of pleasure?

You ask yourself why Eve is blamed for Adam’s actions. You ask why it is said she seduced him into sin. And then you realize the Bible, as sacred as it is, was written by men. That even back then, men needed to blame women when they couldn’t control themselves, they needed to blame women for their sexual urges, and they wanted to be excused for not controlling them. And what better way to do this then to label the mother of all women, Eve, as the Biblical reason? Eve was the real sinner here, poor Adam was “seduced” to eat the damn apple. He was “seduced” into recognizing his own sexuality. It was her fault.

Essentially, slut-shaming is of Biblical proportions.


I am at my homegirl’s house. I am using her computer and try as I might to avoid it, I go to the stupid blog. I report the blog, over and over and over, hoping with each report that it will suddenly delete itself from the ether. I find my pictures and begin to read the comments.

“Oh shit, isn’t that the little poet chick? Ha ha.”

“She has gorilla tits.”

“That’s what she gets for sending out pics like this. Dumb bitch.”

I close the browser. I cry into my hands. I ask a friend, a computer-techy kind of dude, what my options are. I have none. There is no law against it. There is no way I can legally track the anonymous blog creator. I have to swallow my pride and wear this shame like a a tattoo.

That night, in my bedroom, I finish work for school and line up my books on the folding table I worked on. I sit on the edge of my bed, holding a box cutter my brother gave me for protection in my hand, staring at the veins in my wrists. I run a fingertip over one, green under my untanned skin. I breathe deeply. I have done nothing but create chaos for myself. I have done nothing but set in stone that I will never be “good.” My mother says, “Men don’t like girls who are too much.”  I am too much and too much means I am not “good” enough. I cry. I cry. I cry.

I put the razor down because I imagine that if I go through it, my spirit will float to the ceiling and I will watch myself bleed rubies onto my sabana. I imagine my spirit floating there as Mami finds me and I imagine how much pain I will feel watching her cry. I open my journal. I write that down. I rip out the page. I put the razor back in my schoolbag. I am angry. I am angry because I could feel shame for my body, feel shame for being flirtatious and sexy. I am angry because no one ever “exposed” men.

I cry alone. No one comes to tell me I will be okay. I don’t expect anyone to. Why should they?


Over brunch at IHOP, a friend I hadn’t seen since before the pictures were posted, looks at me over our stacks of buttermilk pancakes. We haven’t spoken about it. It’s almost as if we’re both avoiding the topic. When it finally comes up, I busy myself with eating pancakes as she speaks.

“When I saw the pictures, Angie, I wanted to kill you! You should’ve known better!”


“Guilt is feeling bad about what you have done; shame is feeling bad about who you are – all it is, is muddling up things you have done with who you are.” – Marcus Brigstocke


In 2015, I attended my second VONA. Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation is a week-long multi-genre workshop for writers of color specifically. It is the only one of its kind in the entire nation. I call it safety. I call it healing. I call it family.

We started the day with a prompt, “Write about the thing you cannot say.”  I decided to write about this experience. Part of what I wrote:

“I’ll never forget the words ‘gorilla tits.’ I’d like to thank that person though, tell them that the story I could only say once to my family…the story that wasn’t about me but really about what they thought I had done and how it humiliated them…that story is just a seam in my skin. I own it…hold it out. It’s there. My gorilla titties are quite fucking perky thank you very much. And if that person were here now, I’d flash them, blind them with my rich gorilla rounds and tell them a word. A word that takes it all back, takes it back from family and judgment and shame. Takes it back from them all. MINE. I can say that word if I can’t say anything else.” 

When I read the piece aloud, one of my fellow workshoppers spoke up:

“I am not sure if you meant ‘gorilla’ like the animal or ‘guerrilla’ like in warfare, ya know? I think if I were you, I’d leave it as the warfare ‘guerrilla’ though. You’re fighting a battle, you know.”

I was fighting a battle. I was struggling. I dug the change of word…. guerrilla tits.

I never looked at it quite that way.


“Growing up is, at heart, the process of learning to take responsibility for whatever happens in your life. To choose growth is to embrace a love that heals.”
― bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions


Shame was rooted in how I defined myself long before Smuts-R-Us. By the time these photos were posted, shame was a shadow that followed me everywhere. When I was 19 years old, an ex-boyfriend showed up at my building asking for my attention again. Our relationship had been one fraught with volatility. When I told him I was no longer interested, he called me a “dumb bitch” and a “ho.”

“I don’t know who told you thatchu hot shit, but I know you better than anyone, Angie, remember? You ain’t shit. You just a ho, bitch. Watch. You gonna die alone.”

It’s funny the kind of shit your psyche chooses to remember.

I’ve talked about shame before and about it’s long lingering effects. It infects you and soon, it’s so braided into how you view yourself that you don’t remember life without it. You create ways to avoid it. You run from it. You feed it like Seymour feeds Audrey II, the carnivorous plant in Little Shop of Horrors. Nothing ever satisfies its hunger.

Feed me, Seymour. Feed me.

But you never, ever face it.

My mother clutches her pearls when I tell her that I feel no guilt about  what happened. Like I said, there’s nothing wrong in my eyes with a sexually active adult woman doing something that is sexual. Por favor. I did nothing wrong.

But, I was ashamed because I felt no guilt. I was ashamed because I was told my actions reflected on everyone around me. I was ashamed because no one could love someone who feels no guilt about sending sexy photos of herself. I wasn’t a “good” woman because I should’ve known better.

Guilt is feeling bad about an error made and shame is feeling bad about yourself. The thread in carrying shame is always contempt, the feeling that you are beneath consideration and that you deserve scorn, that you deserve bad.

I treated myself with contempt for years.

And years.

I did do something wrong though. What I did wrong was share myself with someone unworthy of ME. But that in and of itself, is proof that I have so often let my shame dictate my life.

Because I felt unworthy I remained with the unworthy.


I can’t say that I sucked it up and honored myself after this happened. I can’t say I made the best choices. I didn’t. I wanted so badly to not “die alone” that I chose not to be alone and in my invitation to people unworthy of me, I fed the carnivorous shame over and over.  I am known in my circles for being bubbly, sociable, confident, sassy even. But admittedly,  I have always been unsure of myself, of what I had to offer and the fleeting relationships I held were proof of it. I prolonged relationships with men who were emotionally unavailable, who gaslighted and manipulated me. And when honest and loving dudes came my way, I self-sabotaged the situation. Yes, people hurt me, things happened to me. But I kept blaming people for the residues of their actions. I kept them as the villain in my mind’s eye. I heard their words, I felt their judgment, I wore the humiliations for years after. I fed Audrey II for years.

I kept that toxicity in my body and soul. I kept it without knowing its name. I became the villain in my story. I became my own adversary in my battle.

I am only now recognizing it for what it is.

#52Essays2017 Week 12: You Are STILL Gold

“We all have history. You can think you’re over your history. You can think the past is the past. And then something happens, often innocuous, that shows you how far you are from over it. The past is always with you. ” – Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist: Essays


The other day, I saw someone from high school on a dating app that I’ve been on and off of for a couple of years. I didn’t even recognize him at first, until I saw his picture while scrolling on my social media timeline. There he was. I thought to myself, “Oh shit! Welp, why not?” and I hit dude up to make fun of the fact that we found each other on this dating app and admittedly, to flirt. At first, we had a few giggles about it and I mentioned we should hang out. But it soon became clear to me that homeboy was just not interested.

Now, don’t get it twisted, this is not what the issue was. In fact, I was a-okay with homey not wanting to hang out, or get to know me or what not. In fact, I am currently in a space where I am enjoying and savoring my alone time, enjoying my singledom without the desire to be with anyone, be it romantic or sexual. I’m good, b. It occurred to me the other day that I am doing so much work on myself , emotionally, spiritually, creatively, that it is probably for the best that I didn’t capture his attention as I first intended to when I found him on the app.

What stuck out to me about our interaction was his reasoning for why he couldn’t or rather, why he wouldn’t, attempt to get to know me. He admitted he was just out of a relationship and wasn’t looking to be with anyone and because we knew mutual people from high school, he didn’t want it to end up with me thinking he was an asshole and letting those mutual people know that he was, in fact, an asshole.

The issue for me is that, though a lot of these people are on my Facebook or Instagram friends and followers lists, we don’t break bread and we don’t share intimate moments. The people he knows and I know, of course, I show love to and I always will, but in the same way that they are different people, we are different people. I am a different person. I’ll keep it real with you, homeboy didn’t really know me in high school. We never hung out and I would bet money homeboy didn’t even know my name back then. But social media does what social media does.

So, at this point, my gut is all, “Why does the opinions of people that now know me only through social media matter? Is it….ME?” And then I started to create a narrative, or rather, my 14 year old self created a narrative, that this man was only shitting on me because he would be ashamed to admit to these mutual friends that he could possibly be attracted to me.

Now, this man never said those things. In fact, I highly respect his honesty about where his heart is and his not wanting to do me dirty. I appreciate him for that, because that kind of honesty is rare in the dating world.

So, to be clear, he ISN’T an asshole. Or at least in that moment with me he wasn’t.

But isn’t it fucked up that at 32 years old, I went back to that frame of mind?

That shamed teenage girl who felt not good enough was continuing to be shamed and by no one but me.

That’s some heavy ass shit to see in yourself, ain’t it?


“We teach girls shame. Close your legs. Cover yourself. We make them feel as though by being born female, they are already guilty of something. And so girls grow up to be women who cannot say they have desire. Who silence themselves. Who cannot say what they truly think. Who have turned pretense into an art form. ” -Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


When I was a young adolescent girl and the necessary conversations about sex happened, my mother would tell me that my virginity was my “gold.” In my young mind, I thought if I lost it, I would never be the same again.

When my mother found out I was no longer a virgin, I mistook her pain that I had not confided in her about it as disappointment in me. I had lost the one thing that meant I was valuable, the one thing that kept me “good.”

I had given away this “gold” of mine without a care and now I had nothing.


I am a senior in high school. I have recently developed a friendship with a girl in one of my classes, an Albanian girl from Brooklyn. She is kind to me and we laugh a lot. I value our growing friendship a great deal. So much so, in fact, that when she invites me to hang out with her and her homegirls from school at her house, I am quick to say yes.

These are not girls I usually hang with. I wasn’t friendless, of course, but these girls were just not my crowd. As we lounge in her living room, shooting the shit, the conversation of sex comes up. I am unafraid to talk about it. I feel no shame in saying I am not a virgin.

I quickly realize I am the only non-virgin in the room.

One of the girl’s friends, an Asian girl who had always been polite to me even though she smiled at me with pursed lips and had been shocked to see me hanging out there that day, sits up straight on the couch. She is staring at me with eyes narrowed as I am answering the other girls’ questions about sex.

Does it hurt the first time? Hell yes.

Did you bleed? No, but you might.

Did you use protection? Yes. I did, of course.

Her voice is a judge’s gavel when she speaks.

“I don’t know how you could’ve done that. You’re so young.”

“Excuse me?”

“I said, I don’t know how you don’t feel gross about it. I mean, you can’t lose it again, you know. Sex is going to lose all meaning for you now.”

Her words hang in the air like a thick fog. I sit there, stunned to silence. The rest of the girls are quiet as well, staring at me, half-expecting me to curse her out, I suppose. But I don’t. I swallow hard and ask my friend for some water, shrugging it off a bit. This isn’t the first time that I have been slut-shamed as a teen.

I follow my friend into her kitchen and gulp the water down as soon as she gives it to me. She puts a hand on my arm and looks at me with concerned eyes. I feel the heat of tears rising to the wells of my eyes and ask for the bathroom. She points and I damn near run to the bathroom and close the door behind me.

And I cry. I cry hard, stuffing a hand into my mouth to keep from making noise.

I cry out of embarrassment. Out of being spotlighted as the “whore” of the crew. Out of being told that I was now worthless and had no real value. That I was now never going to be loved because I wasn’t as clean, as much of a “good” girl, as they were.

I never hang out with them again.


Contrary to belief, shame is not the same as guilt. Guilt is feeling remorseful for your actions, it is an individual emotion. Shame, though, is a cloak cast on you by others, by society, by people, by words. You didn’t disgrace yourself, no. You are just not what they tell you that you should be. You have deviated from their idea of “good.”

Shame is a clingy son of a bitch. It sticks to you. Shame is an ink stain on the psyche.  It’s thick and heavy and it simmers long before you notice it’s about to boil over. You carry it so long that you forget it’s there. You carry it so long that you begin to believe it is a part of you.

By the time I was 16 years old, I had been sexually assaulted by a boyfriend. It happened at a time of intense grief in my life. I didn’t define it as sexual assault at that time. He was a boyfriend. I told myself it was nothing. I told no one but my best friend. I began to drink alcohol in excess, even went to school drunk sometimes.  I went to after school parties and hooky parties, too. I had friends but I certainly didn’t have their respect. I was losing control. Often, I would jimmy the lock of a locked girls bathroom of the 6th floor of my school and pass out until I was sober enough to go back to class.

Sometimes, I couldn’t get to class.

And then, I would go home and do my homework. I would go home to my mother, still in the throes of her own grief, her own heartaches. I would go home to my brothers, who I thought I could never tell. I told myself that I couldn’t say anything. How could I add to their distress? How could I possibly make my grieving mother think it was her fault?  I told myself they would hate me for shaming them, for disgracing myself, and call me a slut.

Because that’s what I was.


A few years out of high school, I am hanging out with a homegirl, venting to her about the men in my life as we ride the train together. I am in the middle of lamenting about how I am alone and all is terrible in my love life when she puts up her hand.

“Well, maybe if you didn’t sleep with them right away, they’d stick around. You ever think about that, Angie?”

It is a thunderclap statement, silencing me. I stop talking  or we change the subject, I am not sure. I am unclear as to why that assumption is made on me.

A few years later, she tells me that I am just “too sexual.”


“Forgiveness is about giving up all hope of having had a better past.” -Anne Lammott


I wish that I could say that there was some lesson to be learned or that after high school I grew from that trauma. The reality is that I had to go through a lot more bullshit first.

A great majority of my 20’s is spent partying and pretending the lack of emotional stability and direction in my life is okay. I have been laid off from a cushy well-paying job right when I begin college again. I have pushed away every man with honest intentions because I am so afraid they will see just how terrible of a woman I am. I want to detox my life,to clean myself up. I just don’t know how. I think getting my degree is the answer. At the time, I am in a relationship that is shaky at best, a relationship that still revolves around me trying to prove that I am good enough for him to love, that I am worthy of love. He plays me like a fucking fiddle.

I feel like a joke most of the time.

My heart and spirit are in constant disarray. I keep loving the same man in different bodies.  I am called a “slut” more times than I would like to count during my 20s, behind my back by the very man who says he loves me.  I imagine jumping off of a bridge and drowning in cold water. I imagine it so often, that when I fantasize about it, I can feel the air in my curls before I hit the water.

I don’t do it because I don’t want my mother to kill herself when she realizes I am dead.

By 2011, I am still drinking too much, still not taking care of myself, but functioning. I have a 3.9 GPA and a hangover every weekend. Late that year, I am too drunk to fight off a man I trusted to take me home safely after a night of partying. I go home that night, more ashamed at myself than ever.

Didn’t this happen already?

I tell myself what I have been telling myself since I was a young girl: You should be ashamed of yourself. You did this to yourself. How can anyone love someone who has done such damage to herself? How can love come to someone who lets shit like this happen to her? I cry alone mostly. To the world, I am okay. I am confident. I am unashamed. I am fun and fantastic. I am sunshine.

To my reflection, I am the ugliest I’ve ever been.


“She was a mess. So what? We are all stinking messes, every last one of us, or we once were messes and found our way out, or we are trying to find our way out of a mess, scratching, reaching.”
― Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist: Essays


I won’t say that during my life I was ashamed of my sensuality because I wasn’t and I am still unashamed to say that I value it. I have never been one to shy away from sex talk or feel like being open about sexuality was something a woman should be shamed for.

I fucking hate slut-shaming. Sex is fucking awesome and people, women and men, should be able to enjoy it and explore their sensuality as they see fit. Sadly, our patriarchal society runs on the virgin-whore binary. Slut, ho, thot, whore, skank, smut. You break the rules, ladies, and that’s what you are. There are no gray areas. It is saint or sinner. It is good girl or bad girl. There is no humanity, no complexity in you if you’re a woman that likes to fuck. You’re just damaged goods.

I don’t hate myself and I guess I should make that clear. I am very tender with myself nowadays, knowing that I am unloading these burdens to the Universe. I am big on self-love and self-care nowadays. Celebrate yourselves! Love yourselves! But I am still learning what shame and trauma have done to the young girl I was. I am still forgiving her for not “knowing better.”

I am 32 going on 33 and I am realizing only now, that the one person I have been shamed by the most, is myself.

In my entire life, I have told myself that I was unworthy of love more often than I have told myself that I am deserving of it.

Ain’t that some shit?

I’ll say this though: Fuck slut-shamers. Yo soy una fucking sinvergüenza and proud of it. I have had my share of lovers, had a brief poly-amorous chapter in my life, even a few one-night stands.  I have, for lack of a better way of saying it, sowed my wild oats and had fucking fun doing it.

But the reality was, that while I was unashamed to be sensual or to be a sexual being, I still carried the weight of judgment for years. I carried it. I wrote it down. My journals speak volumes about what I truly wanted. I wanted to be loved despite what had happened to me, despite what I thought I had done to myself.

Someone told me I should write a letter to my younger self. But this letter would be the shortest thing I have ever written:

“Dear Sunshine,

No one should love you “despite” your past, they should love you…period. You ARE worthy of the grand love you want.

You are not and will never be what was done to you or said to you.

You are STILL gold. “


#52Essays2017 Week 11: I Call It a Theme…

Owls seem to follow me. If there is one thing people remember about me, it is my affinity for these beautiful birds of prey. I have been gifted many times over with beautiful additions to my growing and unexpected collection. I have a red alabaster owl straight from Italy from a lover and a carved wooden one gifted to me by a former student’s mother. I have a knit one made by a long time homegirl, an ornate gold and ivory painted one I bought in Philly on a day trip with a sister friend. Three small paintings done special for my 25th birthday, a small ceramic bank that I fell in love with in a store window. Mugs. Countless earrings, necklaces. Some call it an obsession. I call it a theme.

One cold night, I was at home with my mother and brother. I had spent a lot of the day doing schoolwork and was in my bedroom, when my brother rushed in and walked towards one of my windows. His urgency slowed as he got closer to the window, his fingers reaching for the pull to the Venetian blinds. Slowly he pulled it up, revealing the top of the air conditioner that sat in the window year round.

The windows needed to be replaced, and were old and cloudy, showed a mere silhouette, but something was sitting on my air conditioner. Something big.

“Angie, look at this bird!” he whispered. “Come slow so you don’t scare it.”

I stepped up from my bed, laying the laptop I was pounding away on down on the sabana. I inched my way closer. I saw it’s feathers before I saw it’s eyes. It’s head turned over it’s shoulder, it’s round eyes staring at me, it’s beautiful fringed feathers blowing in the air, edges delicate like powder. The bird was big, bigger than any kind of bird that had ever landed on my air conditioner before. This was no normal Sedgwick Avenue bird.

“I think it’s a hawk. Or an owl.”

It flew off before we could get a better look through the old clouded window of my bedroom.

My mother insists it was an owl. My brother and I can’t decide.

She says it’s because they’ve always followed me.


My mother and aunt took care of my grandmother everyday for the last eight years of her life. Just like it had been them helping my grandmother take care of her ailing sister, who had lost her mind from Alzheimers. Except this time it wasn’t their aunt. It was their mother.

My mother and aunt spent eight years taking care of my grandmother every single day, visiting the nursing home to bathe her, take home soiled batas and robes to wash fresh, feeding her meals, changing her diapers. Every nurse in that nursing home knew my mother and aunt’s names. They were present. They were her daughters, the oldest and the youngest, bookends. You don’t abandon your mother to the wolves of low-income nursing homes. You take care when and where you can. And when we couldn’t, when we ran away and avoided, they were constant. They were stable.

The owl has forward facing eyes, kept immovable by fixed eye sockets. Their heads are only connected by one socket pivot, allowing their heads to be more flexible, able to turn. Flexible, but facing forward. Mami and Titi seem to have this same flexibility, this focused sight on what has to be done, forever knowing the result, but only being able to move around that. Nothing gets done if you are not paying attention, if you’re not present. Tita was the fixed eye socket, everything else was the one socket pivot.

I wonder so often about the fortitiude it takes to care for someone. Mami says it’s not work if its someone you love, like your mother, but that always didn’t feel right to me. Wasn’t it a lot to see her like that, to see this pillar of strength wither, become feeble? How unsettling to face the crumbling of a foundation that kept you built up. What does that do to your strength? I think you are allowed to be shaky when facing that kind of earthquake. Love or no love.

When my grandmother is put into the nursing home, it is my mother and aunt that clean out her apartment. My mother asks me what I want from my grandmother’s house. I only ask for four things. One is the pendant that she wore of the Virgin Mary around her neck. I don’t get that, it probably being passed to my cousin or kept in my mother or aunt’s jewelry box. The second thing I ask for is a doll, a flamenco dancer dressed in lavender lace ruffles, holding a fan. The third item I ask for is an English decorative tea pot with gold paint details and images of men in fancy clothes riding horses. It is one of those pieces that remind me of the TV show “Antiques Roadshow,” one of those episodes where the person is blown away because it’s worth 500k. I’ll never have it appraised but I imagine that a fortune worthy of my grandmother is sitting on my altar.

When she dies, I ask myself if I want to put some of her ashes in there.

But the last item I ask for is the owl pot holder she always had in her kitchen. Made of cast iron, I’ve always loved it. I remember her placing it on tables that would soon grow heavy with holiday food. I remember pots of white rice that sat on top of it, beans thick with flavor, cinnamon rich avena in the mornings.

No one else asked for those items. I insisted on the tea pot and the pot holder, reminded my mother over and over to grab the owl. I still have it, sitting on my small kitchen window altar next to the tea pot. It is the first thing I look at in the morning before work, gulping down vitamins. They say that in many dream interpretations, seeing an owl can often represent a deceased loved one come back as the owl.


I am washing dishes as I think about this essay. While scrubbing bits of baked on cheese off of a pan, I look up at the altar made on the kitchen windowsill where sunlight crawls in by fingers. I’ve had friends over, a sister friend from VONA who stayed overnight after wine and working on our laptops and a childhood homey for breakfast the next morning. The day is filled with laughter and food and comfort and creative work. My eyes land on the cast iron owl potholder as I wash our breakfast dishes.

I didn’t have some mystical experience with owls that spawned this connection. I actually have never seen an owl outside of the Bronx Zoo and maybe perhaps that night in my bedroom. But the symbol has followed me and when asked to talk about why, I wanted to make sure that I knew in my mind that something connected for me. So, I did what I do best. I read. And I found all of these meanings of the owls as symbols, it’s symbolism in different cultures.I even researched how science can even be interpreted into some emotional significance for me. It was, to the say the least, overwhelming. There were all sorts of connections that I could make about this theme in my life.

I stare again at the cast iron potholder.

I smile, turning the faucet off.

I say hello to her as I wipe my hands dry.

I know who to write about.

#52Essays2017 Week 10: South Bronx by way of Brooklyn and Naranjito

My name was supposed to be Imani Angelique, not Angelique Imani.

The story my parents tell me is that my father begged my mother after she gave birth to me, tears in his eyes, to give him the honor of having his daughter named Angelique.

And so she did. She gave him the honor and kept Imani for herself.

Imani was always my mother’s name for me. She is still the only one who calls me Imani and nothing else. And when someone does actually call me Imani, it often comes as a surprise to me, almost a “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” surprise.

They have no idea what a privilege it is to call me by the name my mother gave me on the day I came into the world.


It is August 29, 1954 in Barrio Anones. The barrio of Anones is one of eight barrios in the town of Naranjito, Puerto Rico. Naranjito is located in the mountainous interior region of the island, named for a small orange tree that travelers once used as a reference point on their way to the bigger town of Toa Alto.

My paternal grandmother is pregnant with her third child, my father. At the time of her pregnancy, she has been staying with the family of her children’s father, while he has gone to New York City, presumably for a better life than the difficult and poverty-stricken life they have been living in Naranjito. Today, she is in labor and there is no one to help her to the hospital, so she begins the long trek herself.

Dressed in a simple bata, slippers, and burlap panties, my grandmother slowly makes her way down a mountain, stopping to rest on rocks when the labor pains overwhelm her.I imagine, that at the moments the pain is searing through her, she is pissed off that she is alone, that the father of her children is in New York City while she traipses down a mountainside to give birth to his third child. I imagine her as a young, beautiful woman, legs streaked with amniotic fluid, worried and in pain, surrounded by the lush green of the mountain side of Naranjito, her stomach curling into itself with hunger, her womb stretching with her son.  I imagine she is scared for her life and that of her soon-to-be-born child, scared for the two children she has left back at her in-laws, scared that if she dies, they will be left without her.

I imagine it is the thought of her children that compels her to continue this trek.

When she reaches the bottom of the mountain and walks into the valley town, she catches the hour-long bus ride to the sole hospital in town. She makes it, I imagine in tears and sweat and fluid, the August heat of the island like a shroud around her. She arrives at the hospital and gives birth to my father, Angel Ruben Rodriguez,the first of his name. They allow her to stay in the hospital overnight and then discharge her in the morning because the need for a bed is so high.

Unable to go back up the mountain, my grandmother reaches the valley town and asks for help. Someone in the town uses a horse to go back up the mountain to get Don Chago, my great grandfather. Hours later, Don Chago arrives on a horse of his own. My poor grandmother, exhausted and hungry and clinging  to her crying child, asks how she will be able to get on the horse after just giving birth. Don Chago and some of the men of the town create a makeshift bed with two branches and a sheet, lining it with leaves. They attach the makeshift bed to the horse and the trek up the mountain begins, my grandmother and father in the bed, dragged along slowly over land.

While my grandmother waits for Don Chago, she tries to breastfeed her newborn son, who is shrieking in hunger. She is so malnourished, she cannot produce milk for him. His shrieks pierce the air, oppressive in the heat. She walks into a colmado and begs the owner to give her something for her child. She has no money, so he turns her away. She continues to beg and my father continues to cry. The screams of hunger finally get to the colmado owner and he thrusts a can of pear juice towards my grandmother.

My father’s first meal was a can of pear juice on the side of a road in a valley town in Naranjito, Puerto Rico.

When he tells me the story, my father laughs and says, “And you want to know what, Angie? I fucking HATE pear juice.”


“The rhythm is in your blood.”
-African Proverb


On the night of my birth, my father threw a jam session in the house. He tells me there was a full orchestra in their Sedgwick Avenue apartment in the Bronx. They jammed for hours, music celebrating my birth, drums and horns and piano welcoming me, his only daughter, into the world. My father prepared a grand meal for all the men that came that night, some of whom included both my father’s best friend and my godfather, William Everich and Baba Femi, my father’s mentor and spiritual father, two pillars of his existence in this world.

He tells me that Lucy, my mother’s best friend and our next door neighbor, would always say of that night, “It sounded like the Palladium in there!”referring to a famed Manhattan mambo club.

“It did though, Angie! It was a beautiful time. We sounded great!”

In African tradition, the drum is not mere entertainment. It is conversation. It is the sound that marks all stepping stones of life and one that represents unity and heartbeat. Drums are played at births, at weddings, at funerals, etc. The drum in African tradition is one of the most important tools of community and love.

I know how important the drum is to my father, his life, and his destiny. His playing that night was to tell the Universe how joyful he was, fulfilled by his three children and the woman he loved, the friends closest to him there that night.

There is a cassette tape somewhere in my mother’s house of the night of my birth. I have yet to hear it, but I imagine it being redolent with joy, exuberance, love. I imagine that there are men’s voices singing, talking, laughing.

I kind of love the idea that the sound of drums and horns welcomed my birth. What a proper introduction for my life.


Greenpoint Hospital was opened in 1914, a beautiful brick and limestone building bearing the strong Neo-classical architectural design of the time, clean lines, archways and grand entrances. The hospital, which still stands, although no longer a medical facility, sits at the intersection of three Brooklyn neighborhoods: Greenpoint, Williamsburg, and Bushwick. Used as a medical facility in North Brooklyn for nearly seven decades, Greenpoint Hospital was shuttered in 1982 and replaced with Bushwick’s Woodhall Hospital.

It is the first day of spring in 1955. My grandmother is pregnant with her fourth child, my mother. She has carried the baby for the full term of nine months and yet her belly is small. This worries her. She lives with her first three children and her husband, who works as an EMT at Greenpoint Hospital a mere few blocks away.

My mother is born in Brooklyn on March 21st, 1955, the first and only of her mother’s children to be born in New York City. It is the first time my grandmother has given birth in New York City, but more importantly, it is the first time she has ever given birth in a hospital. Her other three children have all been birthed in a house in Puerto Rico under the guidance of a midwife known to the family.

I can imagine her apprehension. There is no midwife, just a doctor, lab coats, sterile walls, the smell of alcohol, men. I imagine her not knowing whose hands are reaching in for her child and being disgusted at the thought. I imagine her gritting her teeth in her pain. Life in New York City is not easy for her or her family and she relies solely on my grandfather’s income because as el hombre de la casa, he refuses to let her contribute. Their marriage, though one of love, is also tense and controlled and at times, volatile. I imagine my grandmother feels alone, feels lost, feels trapped in a city that doesn’t want to help her or her children.

I don’t know if my grandfather is with my grandmother when my mother is born. I do know, though a full-term pregnancy, my mother weighs a wee 4 pounds at birth and is kept in the hospital for a month. Knowing that my grandmother had never given birth to any of her children in a hospital before, let alone with strangers, let alone with males, I can imagine how frightening that must have been to leave her youngest child in the hospital frail and helpless with strangers.

When I ask my mother if my grandmother had ever told her about her birth, my mother says all she knew was that my grandmother was frantic about leaving her child behind. When I ask her more, my mother hums that “Hmm” sound she makes when she is slightly amused and I imagine a hint of a smirk fluttering over her lips.

“I wouldn’t know a lot of details, Imani. I was being born.”


My mother has two sons, both born before me. Growing up, she always told me that she dreamed about having a little girl, about being a mother. She brags that she gave birth to all three of her children naturally with no epidural, brags that she never had any stretch marks from any of her pregnancies.

She tells me that my father lied to her when I was born and said it was a boy. Her heart dropped because she had been praying for a girl. She loved her sons, of course, but a little girl was a dream for her, so her disappointment was real.

“When he saw my face, he gave up the joke, probably out of guilt and told me the truth. That moment that I found out it was a girl….when they told me it was a girl, that was the ultimate happiness for me. I was overjoyed for all three of my childrens’ births, but to know that I had a girl, that was the happiest moment of my life.”


“Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.”

-James Baldwin


On June 20, 1984, I was born in the “new building” of Lincoln Hospital. My mother likes to call me and my brothers “true Bronxites,” as we were all born in Lincoln, a central and well-known health facility in the Bronx. Lincoln Hospital, or officially Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center, founded in 1839 as the “Home for the Colored Aged,”was originally in midtown Manhattan and was meant to support aged Black people, many of whom had been slaves prior to the abolition of slavery in New York.  In 1882, it’s name was changed to the “Colored Home and Hospital.” In 1902, it’s name was officially changed to Lincoln Hospital after finding a home on 141st Street and Concord Avenue in the South Bronx. In 1976, the “new” building was built at a cost of $220 million dollars. In 1970, the Young Lords Organization took over the hospital in protest of the neglectful treatment of it’s patients, who were primarily Black and Latino. The facility takes up five full city blocks, continues to serve and support the health needs of its community and is the third busiest emergency room site in the nation.

My mother says she felt labor pains and me being her third child, knew to go to the hospital, where her water broke. She tells me that Dr. Jafari, the doctor who helped her through birth, was a “George Clooney looking motherfucker,” who had the pregnant women requesting him and giggling like teenagers. My father says that the “funnest” part of becoming a father was witnessing our births, though I am sure that my mother would disagree. He tells me I shot out like a football and he caught me.

Both of my parents tell me it was a joyous time in their lives, their children all young and growing, having their last child be a girl was the icing on their cake. I arrived in Kingsbridge in swaddling in the Blue Monster, a huge 2-door Blue Maverick.

There is something to be said about knowing your birth story, knowing where you born, who was there, who celebrated with your parents. It gives you an anchor to your story. This is point A. I think it’s so interesting to know how my parents came into the world, to know the start of their journeys in relation to my own. Their birth stories in many ways, though different share so many similarities, and it is because of them that I am here.

How life can twist and turn is the story. How life can start. How life can be joyous and difficult and scary and full of hope or despair. That’s the story.

But to know where the story is going, you should always know where it began.

My story begins in the South Bronx, by way of Brooklyn and Naranjito, Puerto Rico.

#52Essays2017: Week 9: Not Your Problem

Having an anxiety attack in front of someone is probably the most annoying and frustrating experiences I can have. Not only do I have to navigate my own emotions and ground myself, I aggravate my anxiety by dwelling on how the person is reacting. I create narratives about what they are “really” thinking despite them reassuring me that all is cool and we’re chilling, etc. I’ve mentioned this in some of my previous writing on the topic.

Anxiety is like my shadow. I am always aware of it. I am always conscious of it because it can just happen. There is never a warning or anything. It’s not like my anxiety steps into my brain and says with Kanye West-swagger, “I’ma let you finish this day, but I’m the boss now, bitch.” Anxiety is not polite and it is certainly not patient. It will bumrush the fuck out of you and leave you breathless and angry with yourself or worse, it will make you feel like a turd. And no one wants to feel like a turd, man. No one.


I am at the house of a former paramour. I am reading a book of short stories sprawled out on his bed, while he showers. I am fine. I am enjoying the read and comfortable and ready for a nice night. Everything is okay.

He comes out of the shower and asks me if I’m ready to eat dinner. I nod, closing my book and follow him to the kitchen. I stand next to him as he is serving me a plate of rice and beans and a chuleta. I peel the banana I bought from the bodega and place it on the plate he’s holding and serving my food on. It’s yummy to me but not common, so he smirks at me and I open my eyes wide at him.

“What?” I giggle.

“Nothing. Just never seen that.” He smiles.

“I like it. My mom likes it. It reminds me of family.” I’m not lying. Mami always served me steaming plates of arroz con habichuelas with a regular ass unpeeled banana growing up. It’s delicious and it saves the trouble of having to peel a plantain and fry it in oil, even though that shit is just as delicious, if not more.

He nods, smiling with me, and drops a spoonful of beans on top of my rice. He hands my plate over and I walk out of the kitchen to sit at the table.

And that’s when I feel the heat tingling at my toes. The wave of it washes over me like sauna heat and I can’t breathe. I don’t know why it’s happening. It’s just a feeling. Maybe it’s because I had taken a swig of vodka before he went in the shower. Maybe it was because I was reading a short story about fear right before dinner.

Or maybe my anxiety was just being an asshole again.

I stare at my plate and think to myself, Oh shit, he’s never seen me have an anxiety attack. Please stop. Please stop. 

Of course, that shit only makes it worse.


“To conceal anything from those to whom I am attached, is not in my nature. I can never close my lips where I have opened my heart.”

-Charles Dickens


How do you tell someone that you have anxiety? Or depression? Do you have a long conversation with them? Do you write them a letter? Do you send them links to articles about it with the hopes that they can connect the dots?

There is a huge reason why people so often hide their emotional struggles and mental issues. It is because of fear. The fear of being shunned, ridiculed, laughed at. I mean, let’s be real here, who the fuck wants the negativity and the stigma? And let’s not front like there is no stigma to it. Because there is. Especially in communities of color. For generations, we have been dealing with the “blues,” with “los ataques de nervios,” etc every day. Hardship and adversity is part of our regularly scheduled programming. Who wants to admit that they are overwhelmed by what everyone else is trudging through and dealing with? The reality is this: Not everyone knows they are dealing with it. Not everybody wants to admit it.

How do you tell someone you have a problem when you don’t how to define the problem? When no one has ever talked about it? Today, in the information age, we have access to resources that help us understand these issues. Ask yourself what our parents and grandparents had. Probably nothing but some Agua Florida and alcolado. Probably nothing more than a nap. And then they went back to work, back to surviving. No one talks about it because they couldn’t. Survival mode was more important.

I think about my maternal grandmother, single mother to four children, busting her ass working in factories and ensuring that her kids were safe and fed. My grandmother had to deal with that, with the constant stress and uncertainty of survival, but also the hardships of  being a dark-skinned primarily Spanish speaking Puerto Rican woman in a city that essentially didn’t give a fuck about her or her kids.

I wondered if she was scared sometimes. I wonder if,  like me, she would try to cry as much as she could in the shower because there she could pretend her tears was just the water she was bathing in. If like me, she tried her best to hold it all together. I never saw my grandmother lose it but I imagine there must have been moments where she felt overwhelmed. She was human after all. She had emotions. She wasn’t made of stone. Not the way she loved.

I think about her every time I acknowledge my anxiety. She’s a big reason why I am so open about my struggles.

She’s no longer with us, but I still hope she sees it as a strength.


My anxiety attack that night at homeboy’s house was a big one. One I couldn’t control. I felt like my entire body was on vibrate. Like the tears would never stop. Like I could take the wrinkles out of his sheets with how hot I felt. I wnet to his bedroom, afraid his roommates would walk by and think I was some sort of raging loca crying over her arroz . I ended up eating that meal slowly, cold rice and dry chuleta, banana mushy. I grounded myself lying on my back on his bed, listening to ocean sounds and imagining being anywhere but having an anxiety attack in front of him. It helped that he was willing to help, that he was patient.

When I spoke to my mother about it later, she told me that it was probably best if I walked away, excused myself.

“Try to excuse yourself and go to the bathroom if you are feeling that way, Imani. That kind of thing can be too much for someone to handle, especially a guy you’ve only been seeing for a few weeks.”

“But Mami, I have done that in the past and it doesn’t help. I’ll stay in that bathroom for a million years. Then whoever I am with either thinks I am a wack-job or that I was shitting…on a date. No, no, forget going to the bathroom. If he wants to date me, then he needs to know that anxiety is something I have to deal with.”

“But that’s not his problem. It’s yours. That’s too much to have someone you’re just dating be responsible for. That’s too much to have them deal with.”

I ended that conversation with a quickness.


I didn’t end that conversation with my mother because my mother was wrong. On the contrary, she’s right. It is no one’s fault, responsibility, or problem that I have to deal with anxiety. I am completely and one hundred percent aware of that.

But, here’s the shit. My anxiety attacks are always, and I mean always, exacerbated by worries of how whoever I am with deals with me having an anxiety attack in front of them. I literally make it worse by worrying about it being “too much” for them. I drive myself crazy worrying if I am a burden, or if I am making a fool of myself, or if this will dictate our future.

And I’ve come to this conclusion. I am open about it because the shit happens. It happens and I won’t excuse myself to cry in a germ-infested public bathroom because I am more concerned about how they’re taking it. Fuck that. Not when I need to focus on grounding myself. I have enough to deal with when I’m having an anxiety attack.

Not to mention, if someone can pass judgment on me for it, if they can choose to leave or dismiss me because of it, if they feel it’s “too much” for them, then they aren’t meant for me anyway.  Boy, bye.

I’m trying the best that I can. I am managing this rollercoaster ride as best I can. I didn’t ask for this. This is all a learning process for me. But I can’t be silent about it. I can’t hide something that is now a part of my life. How would that be building anything with anyone? What if, like that night at homey’s house, I just can’t control it? I can’t excuse myself?

No, it’s not his or anyone else’s problem. No, they shouldn’t feel obligated to do shit for me other than show some damn compassion. They shouldn’t be burdened with this, I know.

But trust me, if anyone feels the burden of it, it’s me.


#52Essays2017: Week 8: Dropping Shit Ain’t Easy

Some can forgive and move on and never bother with the thought or memory again. But for someone like me, someone with anxiety, the thought kind of sticks around. It hangs out in the recesses of my mind, a pebble in my mental shoe. And when I am somehow reminded of this person or event, I feel it all the way in my stomach. I relive the moment. I relive the humiliation or pain or anxiety. I begin to blame myself again. I get angry with the memory. I piss myself the fuck off because I feel the anxiety begin to creep up to my throat and then I have to go through the process of grounding myself.

I trigger myself with memories. It sucks.

But then, I sit back and breathe. I remind myself that I have forgiven those moments and those that have crossed lines with me. I have to remind myself because I can get consumed by those memories and those emotions.

I remind myself every day that I have forgiven those that have hurt me.

And it ain’t fucking easy, let me tell you.


He smiles at me as if nothing ever happened.

“Oh my God, Angie? Is that you?”

His smile is wide and pretty like I remember it. His skin still reminds me of when bananas first turn brown, that soft brown, that sweet brown. I hear his voice and I keep looking at my book, because I had already seen his ass and was sitting there praying to everything holy that he wouldn’t notice me. But he does and now I am sitting there, looking up at him, my book opened on my lap, not smiling back.

I nod.

“Wow. You look great!”

I nod again. His smile is beginning to piss me off. All I want is to reach up and smack him with my book but I know that I would just fuck up my book which will only make me more pissed off. So, I nod. I am silent.

I am on the A train. It is April 2015. I am 31 years old. I have not seen this man since I was 19 years old, when he and his buddy showed up one day in front of my building. He told me that day that he was a changed man and when I rejected him he called me a stupid bitch and told me I was making a mistake. He and his buddy stayed parked in front of my building for an hour while he called me over and over.They only left when they got bored.

I have never told anyone that story before.

He had been a boyfriend in high school. The one I hid from everyone because I didn’t want them to know I was scared of him. The older boyfriend who threw a can of habichuelas rosada at me when I failed to make dinner for him at his apartment one day after I left school. The same man who pinched me in the side until I bruised when I said hello to a guy I knew through my brothers, who burned my leg with the ace of his Newport because some guy had called me “sweetheart” in front of him. The same man who made me want to drink until I laughed away the embarrassment, and for the most part, if you ask anyone in high school, I did just that. The same dude who made me feel that he was the only man that would want me because I wasn’t pretty enough for the guys at school or smart enough and I was just a “poor little dumb ass.” The same man who was 22 to my then 16 when we met. The same man who mushed me so hard one day when we were eating at  a diner that the woman who worked as the cashier there followed me into the bathroom and told me to go home to my mother and leave “el hombre demonio” right there at the table by himself.

That man.

But here we are, 12 years later and he’s smiling at me as if nothing ever fucking happened and I am sitting here nodding and silent, scared and pissed off, gripping my book with pale knuckles because I can feel myself trembling. Did I mention he’s a cop now?

“You’re still a reader, huh?”

I nod again. I realize one of his front teeth looks discolored and I don’t remember that. I tell myself his smile isn’t that pretty.

He turns to his partner and hits him in the chest with the back of his hand.

“This girl drove me crazy back in the day, man. Long story.”

Sure fucking is, shitbag.

My stop comes and I stand, brushing past him, and gagging at his cologne. He always did bathe in the shit.

“Take care of yourself, Angie.”

I nod again. I step off the train and pray to all that is holy he doesn’t get off with me.


“Can’t nobody fly with all that shit. Wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.”

Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison (page 179)


I’m going to keep it all the way real with you and say that forgiveness is extremely hard for me. It requires a lot of spiritual fortitude, a lot of patience with yourself, a lot of ego-checking. Sometimes I just downright don’t want to forgive, especially when it comes to shitbags like that man. Fuck all that turn the other cheek mess, miss me with the warm gooey Christian ideas of forgiveness.

I’m of the grain that I may forgive you, I may no longer harbor any resentment towards you, but I ain’t fucking with you and I don’t plan on inviting you back into my life just because I have chosen to forgive your horrendous ass. Forgiveness is not about reconciliation, y’all. It’s about freeing yourself from the anger you feel for them.

And I was angry. For a long time. But I know my spirit just can’t handle all of that weight. It’s much too heavy for me. And I’ve been carrying it for far too long.


“Bag lady… you gone hurt your back
Dragging all them bags like that
I guess nobody ever told you
All you must hold onto
Is you, is you, is you…”

-Erykah Badu, “Bag Lady” from the 2000 album Mama’s Gun


I think what frustrates me about the shitbags I have dealt with, the people that hurt me like that man is this: I want an apology that I will never get.

Not that an apology would make me feel better. In fact, it wouldn’t but I want it. I want to believe in their humanity because I don’t want to live my life thinking that people can be so fucked up, can be that dangerous, that cruel, that mean, that careless with other people.

But I ask myself if he had said sorry that day after all that time, what would my reaction have been?

I probably would have nodded again, knowing I didn’t believe him. I probably would have been just as silent. I probably still wouldn’t believed he had humanity in him.

Sometimes, you won’t get the apology you think you deserve and you have to be willing to forgive them despite that. That’s what the fuck they say. That forgiving them is strength and I suppose it is to a certain degree, but what frees you is not forgiving them and giving them your grace, your mercy. Fuck that. That still makes it about them and what they did and forgiveness is about freeing yourself.

I didn’t realize until I started writing this that it was never about them. I had left the anger behind but just because my heart was no longer full of resentment for them, I still carried the hurt, the shame, the pain. I never asked myself why. I blamed them. I made what they did count for more than it should have. I just kept blaming them for the hurt the memories triggered, never realizing that I still wasn’t in the forgiving space.

It hit me when I had to step away from this essay for the fifth time this week.

I blamed myself. For a long time. I probably still do.

I shamed myself into thinking I had somehow whittled out this life and created the trauma myself. Not just what I experienced with that man but every fucking time I have been hurt, betrayed, abused, lied to by someone. I told myself that I could’ve done something differently, that if I hadn’t done A, then B would have never happened.

The anger was for them and I’ve let that go a long time ago. I ain’t fucking with them and I certainly don’t wish harm on even those who have put me through hell. The Universe is so big and wide and loves me so much that I can’t put  hatred into it because it will only come back to me, dig?

But it’s that hurt, that all-consuming hurt, the kind that swallows you up when its triggered, the kind that darkens everything. The shame of still feeling like that young girl, that young woman. That is what remains. Not the anger. That’s what I have to forgive. And that has nothing to do with them.

I have to forgive myself before I can forgive them. I realize that now. That young girl I was, so hungry for attention, yearning for the sweet high school first love she’d never get, yearning for the fairy tale who fell for the same kind of shit bag for years after she walked away from Shit bag Numero Uno. It wasn’t her fault. And she certainly wasn’t a “poor little dumb ass” for wanting those things or trusting that people wouldn’t do those things to her.

I have to forgive her for not knowing she never needed those things. I have to forgive her for not knowing yet that she was enough and she was more than what she had with him or any other shit bag after that.

I trigger myself a lot. These essays have been bringing up a lot of emotional things that have been ignored and avoided for long enough. I have to step back a lot and measure my steps in this process gingerly because I don’t want to trigger an anxiety attack, don’t want to dig a hole for myself that will be too hard to come out of.

I am only now figuring out how to get out of a hole I have always been in, realizing that I don’t need an apology from them or anything else from them. I need to address this shame, this guilt that has spread itself around my life. And babies, that’s ALL my shit.

Like I said, forgiveness ain’t fucking easy.